Sunday, April 5, 2020

NCCPR News and commentary round-up, week ending April 5, 2020

● FIRST UP A REMINDER: On Thursday, April 9 at 11:00am Eastern, Jerry Milner, the federal government’s point person for child welfare, will be among the panelists on an American Bar Association webinar about child welfare’s response to COVID-19.  Other panelists are Milner’s special assistant David Kelly, Kathleen Creamer of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and Judge Ernestine Gray, aka The child welfare judge who actually follows the law.

● Milner  sent out this great letter to courts and child welfare agencies urging them not to impose blanket bans on court hearings to reunify families and wholesale bans on visits between foster children and their parents. Unfortunately, many child welfare agencies are ignoring this guidance and one is outright lying about what the guidance says. Can you guess which one?

● Most local news stories about child welfare and COVID-19 have one obsession: The false claim that with schools closed children are at risk of falling victim to what some have called “A pandemic of child abuse.”  Last week I noted some commendable exceptions.  Now, there are a few more: 

The websites of both ABC News and NBC News looked at the enormous harm being done to families by those court delays and cancellation of visits. (And you can read more here about the case at the center of ABC’s story.) Locally there were stories from The Day in New London, CT, the online news site BillyPenn (which is how I found out the Philadelphia child welfare agency is lying about federal guidance – oops, gave it away!) and WHYY Public Radio, also in Philadelphia.

● There is an excellent commentary in the Houston Chronicle on not confusing poverty with neglect during this time of exceptional need – and it’s from the CEO of Texas Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  Yes, I’m serious about this.

● Also from Texas, Andrew Brown, director of the Center for Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation has a column in the San Antonio Express News on how courts should respond to the current crisis.

● Once the pandemic is over a lot of people will be looking for jobs.  Thanks to years of effort by family advocates and family defenders, that will be a little less difficult for some impoverished parents in New York State. 

Under a new law it will be a little harder to be placed on the state’s massive blacklist of people who allegedly abused or neglected their children, and a little easier to get taken off when the listing is unjust – as it often is. In other words, during this “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” New York is helping prevent what child welfare agencies often define as child abuse by helping impoverished families provide food, clothing and shelter for their children. The Chronicle of Social Change has a story about the new law. 

● And speaking of Child Abuse Prevention Month, I’ve reposted NCCPR’s annual reminder not to succumb to the hype and hysteria that so often accompanies it – a reminder that has extra relevance this year.

In other news

● Long after the pandemic is over, we may find that the most important child welfare news last week had nothing to do with COVID-19.  I have long criticized the Family First Act as overhyped and not likely to do much good.  That’s because only a narrow range of services can be funded under the act and they have to meet extremely strict criteria proving they are “evidence based.”  (If the same criteria were applied to foster care and residential treatment neither would get a dime of federal funding.)

Last week, one of the most important and most effective programs in child welfare qualified. The clearinghouse for determining if programs are sufficiently “evidence based” to get funding under the law has given its highest rating to the Homebuilders Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) program.  These NCCPR Issue Papers explain what Homebuilders is and the mass of evidence that it works

The very term “family preservation” was coined to apply to this program, which dates all the way back to 1974. It had the potential to transform child welfare.  For that very reason it was marginalized, thanks to a smear campaign by the child welfare establishment.  Homebuilders and drug treatment are almost the only programs Family First will fund that might actually do some good.  So I hope advocates will press states to put the bulk of Family First funding into those programs.